The objective of this study was to evaluate if extraction of broken feathers outside the molting period was an efficient method to induce growth of new flight feathers as part of the rehabilitation process of raptors with damaged plumage. Primaries, secondaries, and rectrices (four of each) were removed under general anesthesia from 10 American kestrels (Falco sparverius) using two different protocols: with and without filling the follicle with bismuth subnitrate (Orbeseal) to prevent it from sealing. Birds were kept in large aviaries under natural daylight and outdoor temperatures. Rate and quality of growth of new feathers were assessed regularly for 4 mo. Results were significantly different between the types of feathers: 100% of rectrices, 58% of secondaries, and 8% of primaries started to grow within the 4 winter months, and 95% of rectrices, 30% of secondaries, and 0% of primaries completed their growth normally within this period. The use of Orbeseal did not improve the outcome. The tail feathers began to grow between the second and third weeks at about 2.7 mm/day, and growth was completed within 7 wk. Rate, starting time, and duration of remigial growth were less predictable and varied widely among individuals. Although the exact impact of these extractions on the natural molt is still unclear, most of the primaries that were plucked during this study failed to regrow normally during the following molt. In conclusion, plucking damaged tail feathers in kestrels can successfully decrease the duration of rehabilitation. However, this procedure would not be recommended for wing feathers.
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